The “upgrades 4u and u and u” ads aimed to banish “misconceptions” consumers can only upgrade their mobiles with the company they had previously bought their device or contract with.

Both ads featured various comical characters asking if they could upgrade their phones in spite of their various traits such as smelling of fish, keeping a lot of cats and being an estate agent. The voiceover indicated they could all receive upgrades and in the other spot that customers could upgrade every six months with its jump contract, while on screen text stated “T&Cs apply” and “T&Cs and exclusions may apply”.

The ads led to a complaint, challenging whether the ads were misleading because it was understood customers were not available to all customers on all networks – such as Three and Tesco Mobile – as the voiceover appeared to suggest.

The ASA said the context of the ads gave the impression everyone could upgrade with Phones 4U because it used various characters.

The watchdog added that while consumers would understand “upgrade” to mean getting a new phone, they may not expect to have to change networks to do so. While Phones 4U included on-screen text referring to T&Cs, it did not consider these made clear it was only possible to upgrade on certain networks.

The retailer is now editing its campaign to make details about the networks included in its upgrade service more prominent.

Phones 4U said it never claimed “everyone” could upgrade with the retailer and that the voiceover responded to questions from specific individuals, rather than making a universal claim. It added that copy was shown clearly in both ads referring to “T&Cs” and to “exclusions” in one of the spots.

Furthermore, the retailer said if a customer was on a network it was not partnered with, it would be possible for them to upgrade to another network by switching provider or buying a SIM-free phone. It asserted consumers would understand “upgrade” to refer to getting a new phones.

Phones 4U had intended the “upgrades 4u and u and u” campaign to be “less polarising” than its previous horror-themed spots, which were the most complained about ads from 2011.

Separately, Phones 4U yesterday (21 January) announced plans to launch its first mobile network, dubbed “Life Mobile” as it looks to expand the brand from its retail portfolio into services. The network will run as a MVNO on mobile operator EE’s 2G and 3G spectrums when it launches in March.